Can We Ever Count On Good Times Continuing?

Human Societies Are Built on Weak Foundations

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, UK.

Human history moves on. Good times may lead to rather less good times, or even to catastrophic times. Conversely, bad times may also lead to times of peace, plenty and joy. Time-wise, people often tend to get very stuck and set into 'ruts.' People struggle to carve out an existence for themselves and for their children and there tends to be the feeling and the assumption that, as long as one continues to be able to work, times should be relatively good. Yet human experience shows that calamities can be completely unpredictable, even when "experts" forecast that the 'good times' will continue. There are so many examples of this that it is hard to know where to start; we may think of wealthy American families becoming penniless overnight following the 1929 Wall Street Crash. We may think of Japanese families living near Hiroshima in August 5th 1945, expecting that tomorrow will be 'just another day.' We may think of countless familes in many places over the centuries, expecting life to continue to go on in the same old way only to be hit by sudden war, uncontrollable plague or seismic or weather disasters.

A Chinese Example

I recall reading about the life of a family in China in the 1930s. The family were not wealthy but there was enough to eat and much joy and contentment accompanied their family life. Then suddenly and very unexpectedly that family's very pleasant world changed - yes, it literally happened overnight. The Japanese invaded. Suddenly where there had been peace there was violent and often bloody war. Where there had been contentment, there was stark fear with a particularly acute fear when a family member needed to go out and buy food, for invading troops were everywhere and could pounce on anyone in order to satisfy sheer blood lust. The family started out as five persons but finished as only three; the father and oldest girl were brutally murdered in two separate incidents which the entire family witnessed. The girl was knifed to death when she refused to submit to rape and just months later the husband was beaten to death apparently to amuse bored soldiers who were having a quiet day. Such were quite typical incidents for those Chinese who had to endure Japanese 1930s tyranny. It was this very pleasant and very normal family's supreme misfortune to live near Nanjing during the 'Rape of Nanjing,' a series of horrendous and ongoing war crimes committed by the Japanese military in and around the then capital of China, Nanjing (usually pronounced 'Nanking' by English speakers), after it fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on December 13, 1937. This period of Chinese history has been noted for the needless but wilful killing of many women and children by Japanese soldiers and has been called one of the most shameful periods in Japanese history.

This advertisement for televisions appeared in an American magazine of 1949. It well reflects the 'good times' feeling following the 1945 defeat of Germany and Japan during the 1945-1955 'golden years.' But human history shows that both good times and bad times can suddenly change. Just eight years prior to this ad appearing, American servicemen serving at Pearl Harbor had found death and destruction suddenly pouring from the skies in an entirely unprovoked attack.
An amusing feature in the above picture is how these early 'ads' for TVs in both Britain and America always showed viewers very elegantly attired as if attending the opera! Oh, by the way, my wife and I attended an opera recently; it seems that many now go to the opera just wearing denims - how dreadfully sad!

A Judean Example

There was comparative peace in Palestine during the ministry of Jesus in the early 30s AD. The Roman army was certainly in occupation but nevertheless a sort of peace existed. Without question, there was an expectation that the peace would continue. Why should it not? It was in most people's interest for it to do so. Yet Jesus issued the disciples with a most serious warning. He stated that within a generation of His ministry (Matthew 24:34), terrible destruction would come upon Jerusalem. He warned that His people's best course of action would be to take flight from the city:

'Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no-one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no-one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress...' (Matthew 24:16-21a, NIV).

The destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 was indeed terrifying. Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish. Another 97,000 were captured and enslaved. Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean but the Romans hunted many of them down and slaughtered entire clans, such as descendants of the House of David. On one occasion, Titus is said to have condemned 2,500 Jews to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheatre of Caesarea in celebration of his brother Domitian's birthday.

However there is strong evidence that the Jerusalem Christian community did indeed heed Jesus' advice and managed to flee Jerusalem successfully in AD69. A clear message starts to emerge from the biblical testimony, and it is this: There are no sure or firm foundations in any society in this world. Peace and plenty may oftentimes seem to present a golden road ahead and human families may settle down in expectation of it, but, all too often, human history records the transience and sheer unpredictability of all human societies developed by the sons and daughters of Adam.

A Foundational Flaw is the Problem

The apostle Paul well describes the ongoing lack of confidence which one should have in all human societies:

'While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.' (1 Thessalonians 5:3-6).

While the words of Paul may well have had a particular application to unfolding events of the first century, or indeed, to unfolding events prior to the Second Coming, the principles can certainly be applied to any human society during the present age. Human forecasters of society's trends have been proven to be notoriously unreliable. Christians should not go 'sleep-walking' into human promises of good times to come in societies which are steeped in sin and in rebellion against God. Ultimately, there is no confidence and children of the light and of the day should be ever-watchful and vigilant that times could suddenly change and that the Lord of Heaven and Earth might be about to bring a particular society into severe judgment, just as with the sinful society which Lot lived rather too close to.

Only God offers firm foundations and in Him alone is there full confidence. This sureness of foundation and confidence extends beyond the present life to life eternal.

'So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"See, I lay in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.'
(Isaiah 28:16).

Our present society is insecure and unpredictable because a vital part of its foundation is missing. It is the cornerstone which holds everything together in perfect accord and harmony. That cornerstone was never laid because it was rejected by the builders of our collective societies (1 Peter 2:7). But since it was never laid, everything becomes a lot more unpredictable and prone to sudden collapse!

'Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.' (Ephesians 2:19-22).

So both now - and continuing on into eternity - Christians enter a new kingdom. It is a spiritual kingdom in which Christ Himself is restored as the True Cornerstone. When this stone is restored, Christian themselves become a new, spiritual temple which can never be destroyed and they will serve and dwell with the Lord throughout an eternity of presently unimaginable joy of never-ending interest, ecstatic happiness and accomplishment! Then, at last, the 'good times' will be never-ending.

Robin A. Brace, 2007.